International Astronautical Congress (Glasgow, 2008)


Q: have you thought that aliens might be machines?A: we do take that seriously. I’m not too sure where to begin with this one. Let’s start where I am now - observing a highlight lecture on the Dynamics of Climate Change delivered at the International Astronautical Congress. It takes place in an auditorium that holds around 3,000 people. Approximately 300 people are present, based on my precise mathematical method of looking around. Part of the lecture, given by the National Centre for Earth Observation explained the value of being able to observe Earth from outer space. Oh, that’s interesting. So, we need to do what his organization happens to get paid for. Not necessarily troublesome, but useful to point out that the ideas we’re being sold are the ones that our speaker gets paid to address. He’d probably like a bit more money to do it as well. Fine.

The presentation also articulated the absence of a skill base to adequately understand and address some of the more pressing challenges we face due to climate change. So, there also needs to be a long term investment into the skill base that would boost the work of the NCEO. Right, but, for want of a better phrae, ‘he had me at hello’. I’m signed up. The practices of environmental care are morally preferable to the practices of reckless excess. That’s good enough for me and he even said we can close the Ozone hole, if we behave. All good and I don’t really mean to appear dismissive. It’s just that a lot of these meetings clearly engage undisclosed financial and political interests and we need to take that on board.

I’m getting side-tracked. This is a posting about the conference on Outer Space. I entered this room after having just finished listening to a series of artist presentations, which articulated their own engagements with outer space.  It’s really the highlight of my academic year, so far – and it’s got fierce competition, not least the Beijing Olympics. It’s just the sheer range of ideas and issues that have inspired me. That always has the edge. The exhibitors’ hall is a marvel in itself, and I’ve been to some good exhibitors’ halls. This really leaves the others standing. Best free toy: a pen that lights up (better than it sounds).

The real motivation for being here and what I take from it is that space exploration engages us with a series of problems that are second to none. They apply across disciplines and the application to space requires our re-definition of concepts. My heart lies with the new ‘extraterrestrial ethical’ issues that it provokes and this lecture on climate change further convinces me of the contribution this ethical framework can make to how we relate to outer space. There’s a whole lot of work to be done!

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